Posts Tagged ‘desert’

The Wild Life Part 2: The Badlands

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

The Black Hills once again showed off by wowing us with dazzling landscapes and very opportune wildlife appearances. When we arrive at the first overlook of Badlands National Park early in the morning my mom and I were both stunned by the surreal beauty of this unusual park.

As I scrambled down into a good position for my landscape shots, I nonchalantly declared that “The only thing that would make this view better would be if a bighorn sheep was right front in center.” As I checked in my view finder to line up my show I was astonished to see that I had been lucky enough to find right in front of me a bighorn sheep slowly making his way up the side of the mountain right toward me.

As I stammered out excited exclamations to draw my mom’s attention and gesticulated wildly in the bighorn sheep’s direction, he only continued to calmly move even closer.

I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I already felt insanely spoiled by my mountain goat sighting and here was another beautiful animal standing right before me.

The wild beauty held in the square caramel pupil of the bighorn sheep once again shocked me into total astonishment. How can a quiet majesty like this exist in a world full of so much noise?

The National Parks are so incredibly important to this country and sadly so many people will never get to experience the wonder preserved within the boundaries of these parks. These special places are not a manufactured space for the amusement of tourists, but rather they represent the remnants of a world left undisturbed by modernization and the greedy outstretched hand of man.

The Badlands in many ways epitomize the strange glory of the national park system. You drive into what appears to be nothing more than endless grasslands when suddenly you find yourself standing on the precipice of a natural wonder shaped by a millennia of natural forces. These spires and rocky edifices were carved by the hand of Mother Nature meticulously to cradle the unique characteristics of the world.

Even the wild animals embody a special feeling of otherworldliness. I was lucky enough to witness an entire family of bighorn sheep including several small babies. The fresh eyes of new born life shone brightly in their dark gaze. Locking eyes with these graceful creatures brings an exhilarating rush of understanding that stems from some unknown place inside of me. I don’t know exactly what it is that feels so understood in those moments, but I know that I will carry it with me always.

The Badlands really display the beauty of barrenness. Last time I explored the Badlands everything appeared to be dust, but this time around I was lucky enough to see the ground coated in green and a sparse, yet beautiful collection of wildflowers sprinkled throughout the park. The deep desert hues of the mountains contrasted so brilliantly with the green grass of the plains. 

The life here can seem so fleeting and in many ways that is what makes it so extraordinary. The continual struggle for survival, for a single foothold in life in a place as extreme as the Badlands, really illuminates the resilience of nature and the determination to continue on despite seasons of barrenness.

The best way to experience this for yourself is definitely to lace up your hiking boots and head deep into the rocky crags and spires of the park. Behind the looming towers of layered rock exists a microcosm of clay riverbeds, veins of blue grey pumice, and secret caverns of water carved rock.

My favorite hike in the park has to be the Notch Trail near the eastern visitor center. When you leave behind the boardwalks leading across the rocks and weave your way through the rocky towers, there lies a log ladder snaking up the mountainside.

This deceptively tall ladder while visually stunning creates quite the bottleneck of hiker traffic so definitely arrive early to dodge the crowds and enjoy the peaceful canyon trail! 

After climbing to the top of the notch and hiking a great deal around the park we took a fun break from the serious beauty of the Badlands by visiting a prairie dog town just outside of the park.

As I said before, I’m a sucker for these little guys. Especially when they come in groups of two!

We were sad to leave, but let’s be real, when would I ever be happy to leave a National Park.

On to Madison and then the western side of lower Michigan!

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The Weird Llama Lady

Friday, September 18th, 2015

I have officially become that weird person wandering around with a little llama fluff ball sticking out of my purse. I have already had numerous conversations with strangers about it; it is a great conversation starter. The first conversation I had was with some very nice janitorial staff at a rest stop who were entirely baffled by Mama the Llama. They hesitantly followed me around the rest stop as I took pictures and finally came up and asked me what in the world it was that I was holding. I told him it was a llama, which then sparked a somewhat circular conversation in which he insistently question me about whether it was a real llama or not no matter how many times I told him no, it was most definitely not a real llama. Aside from the giggles and pointing whenever I am out and about taking pictures with my lovely sidekick it has been quite a lot of fun even if it is hard to remember to always take her with me places.

Today we left Page for Durango where I will be staying for almost a week with my little brother. I am happy to say that we made it safe and sound with little incident.

After a slow morning where our tour plans for Antelope Canyon fell through and a meandering look at the ever faithful Horseshoe Bend we headed out to Monument Valley.

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We took off from the straightforward route and fit in some adventuring time to visit this tribal park. Sitting right on the border between Utah and Arizona, this collection of monolithic rock formations of fiery red stone and sunset oranges always is a treat to stop for on a road trip.

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At Monument Valley we took a picnic break and then I made an ill-informed decision to try to drive just a short bit of the dirt road loop around the monuments. I learned today that PriPri is in no way, large or small, an off-roading vehicle. There were a few moments on that road (which I was doing by myself since my dad had the foresight to decide not to come with me) in which I really thought my car wasn’t going to make it. I survived and so did PriPri, although the car was definitely covered in red dust for quite some time afterwards.

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From Monument Valley we continued on a smaller road to cut over to Colorado above four corners where we encountered some really beautiful rock bluffs that towered over the road. Driving in the shadow of these red mountains is truly a humbling experience. It makes you wonder at the thunderous sound it would make to hear the mountains crumble and it is impossible not to feel small when underneath them.

There is an extreme beauty in this country that constantly confounds me. The fact that I can drive on these bumpy chewed up roads across this vast nation and be so close to so many incredible natural formations and feel as if it is perfectly normal for them to be there next to me is astounding. I never feel more humbled than on a road trip, especially when I go through the Utah, Arizona, and Colorado. I cannot put into words the incredible beauty that this country has to offer and my photos cannot do it justice either.

Now I am in Colorado, nestled between mountains in the little lively town of Durango. I will be adventuring, relaxing, and spending time with my brother here before I head out on the second part of my journey across the states that will take me to my next big stop in Northern Michigan.

I cannot wait to see what Colorado has in store for me.

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Israel: From the Desert to the Holy City

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

The night spent in the goatskin tent felt like an eternity, even though we actually slept for about 3 hours total due to our late night jam session. The ground was hard, the air cold and thin, but even through this, it was still a great feeling to wake up and feel surrounded by new-found friends. It really was after that night that I think we all stopped being people on a trip and became friends.

6am. Wake up call. Everyone slowly and regrettably rolling out of their sleeping bags and wandering with blurry eyes toward the bathrooms to try to reassemble our appearances for the coming day. A sea of girls packed the small bathrooms brushing teeth, doing makeup, brushing hair, trying to find all the articles of our clothing; it really made the entire morning process of preparation seem a fool’s errand so early in the morning and with no space to get ready.

Eventually I gave up trying to prep myself to look slightly human again and realized it was a failed effort. The darkness we had woken up to slowly altered itself as the great fiery ball that is the sun slowly lifted itself up from its hiding place to peek over the sandy mountain tops. The sand under my feet, the sounds of the camels and donkeys, and the slow progression of people toward the breakfast area was interrupted when the sun revealed itself. Everyone around me stopped to watch its steady ascent. It was magnificent, bathing the desert land in light, cascading over sand dunes to fill the valley with light.

It was a wonderful morning to be alive.

Breakfast was in a big tent and was very welcomed. Great food, real fresh goat cheese, all assortments of bread and fresh eggs along with their amazing tea. The tea was much needed again because the long night in the cold and the lack of sleep had ruined my health and I felt terrible. It felt like someone set my throat on fire and I could barely speak at all. As we all sat at the table making fun of my hoarse voice and enjoying the awesome Bedouin breakfast I felt something hit me. Looking up I saw a  couple of birds perched in the ceiling rafters and realized to my horror that I had just been pooped on by a bird. Horrified and everyone else laughing, I tried to figure out how to save my only outfit I had for the entire day ahead. Luckily I was able to get a new shirt but it was just such a comically horrifying moment.

After breakfast we all headed back to the buses which were bathed in the sunrise’s glow as well to continue our journey onward.

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At 7am we left camp and drove deeper into the desert valley winding our way past sand dunes on empty desert roads. We were headed to Masada, an isolated rock plateau atop a great desert mountain that overlooks the Dead Sea and the vast Judean Desert. This place was once the site of one of Herod’s great palaces which he greatly fortified, but fell under Roman siege ending with the tragic suicide of nearly a thousand jewish people to avoid enslavement at Roman hands. This tragic tale took place on top of this pillar of earth high above the desert earthen floor and we hiked up the Roman Ramp that had been built to over take the fortification

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We hiked up in the shadow of the mountain, only seeing the sun bathed desert light peaking around the sides of the great mesa. Coming out between stone pillars, which were thousands of years old to the flatten plain where once a great palace stood, bathed in early morning sunshine, was an amazing sight to see.

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Directly under the sun, even this early in the morning, had us all seeking out shade to learn more about this place.

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We talked for a while about the history of this place and then set out to wander along the ruins of this ancient place.

The world felt silent from up there, so high above the valley of the Judean Desert, it was one of my favorite experiences on the entire trip. The hot breeze lifting the dusty sand of ancient worlds to twirl around us as we plodded along. It felt like God was in the breeze, suspended in the air all around us, caught between the bricks of each ruined building.

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One amazing thing we went and saw was down some ancient worn steps into what used to be the water storage area; a great pit of a room with extremely high ceilings that we all walked down slanted steps to reach the bottom. Light poured in from the outside sunshine and illuminated the room in such a magical way, it was impossible not to feel awestruck.

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I stayed behind and lingered there in the bottom of that pit, placed my hand on the square of light let in through the hole high above me. It was an amazing feeling to touch the smoothed out stone that everywhere else felt so cold and hard, but right there where the light touched the ancient wall, was warmed by the sun.

After leaving the water storage area we went back out onto the plateau where we all sat in a huge circle and just meditated for a short while. We sat in silence, just listening and feeling the Israeli sun on our faces. I touched the ground and felt the sand run through my fingers, dusting them with archaic remnants of the past. Listening to the wind brush past us, you could almost hear God whispering in your ear. The wind felt like the breath of God, escaping like a sigh across this place so high above the ground.

When we opened our eyes from the meditation each person had a little envelope from their loved ones before them. We had some free time to go be alone, contemplate, and read our letters wherever we pleased. I sat curled up in a nook of the archaic ruins facing over the cliff side into the canyons far below.

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After I read my letter, I stood at the canyon’s edge and with a couple of other people, yelled over the sides of the plateau into the valleys below. Our voices were carried far away, filling the crevices of the canyons all around us. Lifted high by the wind, our voices rang out across the Judean Desert. It was crazy to see the power of our voices as they echoed around us.

Afterwards, before we descended via the Snake Path, which is a huge winding trial leading down the other side of the plateau, we all took a group picture, the first that included our lovely Israeli soldiers.

 

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The descent, which most people take a cable car to avoid, was one of the longest hikes I have ever experienced  It took an eternity to reach the bottom, but it was still an amazing trail to hike down. Once at the bottom we ate lunch in a cafeteria area. I am willing to admit I actually ate McDonald’s, just see what it was like and to my great surprise it was actually good. It was nothing like McDonald’s in America, it felt like real food, real burgers, not gross tiny hamburgers. It was huge and really tasty. While we waited for our bus we all played a giant game of ninja and a new game we learned the previous night called Sheep-a-Sheep. It was hilarious and a great way to wrap up our time at Masada

The Dead Sea was our next stop and one many of has been highly anticipating the entire trip; a chance to float in the Dead Sea’s salty waters. This place is the lowest elevation in the entire world at 423 meters below sea level. So we all excitedly went to change into our bathing suits and ran down to the beach for a float. This experience was not at all what I expected it to be.

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The color of the water was a beautiful green and blue, which contrasted wonderfully with the red and orange rocks on the shore. The first difficulty we encountered was actually getting into the water itself. It seems benign enough in the pictures, but what you don’t see in this picture are the salt deposits covering every rock, making sharp crystalline structures that just love to shred feet if you aren’t careful.

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This is a more accurate display of what it looked like and felt like walking barefoot on these rocks and trying to make it into the water as waves were splashing against our wobbly legs. Once in the water and off our feet, which were now on fire from the salty water getting into the numerous cuts on our feet, we felt the bizarreness that is the Salt Sea.

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Everything you hear about the Dead Sea is true; it is bizarrely salty. It feels like gravity has been reversed or you are floating on air. You have to float on your back and once you do it is such a weird experience. It feels like nothing you ever have felt before.

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It was really very fun to paddle around and float with everyone out in the water.

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However, the salt that makes the Dead Sea such a cool experience is also your worst enemy. The very first thing they told us getting off the bus was, whatever you do, don’t put your head under water or get water in your eyes or mouth. I don’t think I understood how very serious they were. Within moments of being out in the water my lips were covered in crusted salt and everyone could tell something was weird about the water. The water was slightly wavy and would splash little bits of the water on our faces and it burned, literally burned. You couldn’t rub the hurt from your eyes because your hand were covered in the water. There was nothing to do if you got even the tiniest splash on your face. People had to get back on shore and wash out their eyes in a serious way. Most people didn’t even stay in the water very long because the waves kept getting the salt in people’s’ eyes. After a short while everyone was out of the water with bloodied feet and burning eyes. The medic really had her hands full bandaging people’s feet.

It really is an amazing example of the beauty and danger of nature. It was extraordinarily beautiful and I am so glad I did it but everyone was pretty ready to get very far away from the water after only a short while.

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We all ran to the showers to get the burning salt off and headed back to the bus with new battle wounds but satisfied in having this very cool, if not slightly disastrous experience. Once back on the bus one of our peers actually passed out because he got so dehydrated from the salt. It is funny looking back on how much of a disaster it actually was, but I don’t regret it for even a single moment.

Tired from the already really long day (remember we had been up since 6am after a 3am bed time) and having hiked in the heat, swam in the salt, we were all pretty exhausted. However we had no time to rest, Jerusalem, the Holy City was out next destination.

We arrived in Jerusalem on a hill that rose above Jerusalem and from it we could survey the whole city. At the overlook we were greeted with a huge welcoming party along with many other Birthright buses. There were drummers who gathered our attention by blowing on horns made out of actual horn. They began to sing and drum as everyone stood and watched; their shadows cast on the ground around their feet.

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It didn’t take long for everyone to join in singing and dancing in a giant circle around the drummers a top a mountain that felt like the seat of the world in the holy city of Jerusalem.

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After the short festivities were over, the dancing and singing stopped and we were officially welcomed to Israel and Jerusalem by the breaking of Challah and sharing it between every single one of us as we watched the sun set over Jerusalem.

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To stand above the city of Jerusalem at last, after coming so far, and having seen so many things already, I could feel my heart expanding knowing: I had made it to Jerusalem. We could see the Dome of the Rock in the distance and the Western Wall (Kotel) along with all the winding labyrinthine streets that created the thatch work masterpiece that is this holy city.

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The very first thing we did in Jerusalem was go and visit one of the expansive open air markets. It was a truly amazing experience. It is one of my all time favorite things to visit market places in destinations that I have never visited before because it provides such an intriguing glimpse into the actual essence of this newfound place.

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We all split up with about an hours time to explore wherever we pleased throughout the giant market place, which was a series of intersecting streets about four streets wide. I split off with Plia and my friend Tia to explore. Since Plia, being from Israel and having visited this very same market several times,  knew exactly where to go, what to see, and what food to eat.

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She was a fantastic guide and made the experience so much more special than it already was, being able to watch these Israeli natives communicate in Hebrew together. One of the very first things Plia showed us was Halva; an odd sesame snack that is kind of like a flaky fudge that has a large variety of flavors. This picture below which looks reminiscent of cheese is actually a large variety of flavors of Halva ranging from coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, poppy seed, orange, vanilla, and all kinds of flavors.

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She even showed us this wonderful character, the Halva King who runs this stand. He is there almost every day wearing his little crown handing out samples of his Halva. It was so interesting and something I had never experienced. I loved Halva (I even brought back some with me to the United States) but it really is something you either love or hate. It is very difficult to relate it to anything I have ever had before, it is just Halva.

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We wandered the streets of the market listening to the vendors yelling out about their wares, Plia occasionally translating so we could understand. Each stand was full of so many amazing things from pastries, to spices, to tea, or trail mixes. There were numerous candy stands selling all sorts of chocolates or suckers.

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Plia took us a little off the beaten track and showed us her favorite place at the market; a tiny little coffee shop down one of the side alleyways which she said had some of the best hot chocolate around. It really was some amazing hot chocolate, all three of us got some and it was one of the richest things I have ever tasted. It had at least three little chocolate bars melting at the bottom fo the cup. It was nice having this brief little glimpse into her world.

As we were leaving the alleyway a tiny restaurant was handing out free samples and they basically chased us down trying to give us free food because they could tell we were americans. We finally agreed and the food was not only amazing but the people were hilarious. They asked us where we were from, both Tia and I said California and suddenly the owner just disappeared. We were a little confused and worried we had offended him when suddenly he comes running back and the speakers of the restaurant start blasting out Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was hilarious and I really wished we could have stayed and eaten there but we were running out of time. So we walked away from the market with Californication filling the market streets behind us.

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It was a truly incredible experience and it felt like we really got a taste of life in Jerusalem. We all reluctantly came back together and late at night drove to our hotel which would be our home for the rest of the trip. The hotel was gigantic, called Rimonim (means pomegranate  but we were all too tired to really care. We got our new roommate assignments and went upstairs to sleep after one of the longest days of my life but also one of the best.

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Israel: The Bedouin Experience

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

This day marked the end of the first leg of our journey in Israel. We woke up early, bags packed, and lined up on the curb like children waiting to board the school bus for their first day of class. We ate our last breakfast at Nof Ginosaur and watched the waves lap on the beach, our last sight of the Sea of Galilee. It was a sad and exciting moment to leave behind the place we had called home for the last three days in order to branch out and find a new home in Israel. We had one stop on the way before out final destination for the day could be reached; we had eight new members to pick up and join our merry crew.

Everyone knew that at some point in the trip we would be joined by eight Israeli soldiers who would accompany us on our trip to give us a little taste of what life is like in Israel for people our age. They were not coming to protect or guard us, they were coming to be our friends and peers. At first I was a little wary of this, I wasn’t sure what it would be like, whether we would get along, or whether we would really connect at all. What I didn’t know was how much I was going to miss them by the time they left, or how much I miss them still. I never expected to grow so close to people whom I had gotten to know in the span of five days, but I do.

We picked them up at Modin, a modern booming city that is rapidly expanding. At a bus stop around the corner from where we parked, our newest friends waited for us. Full uniforms and army bags, they came onto our bus and very quickly changed our entire experience. We all tried to welcome them as much as possible and talk with them.

We only where with them for a few short minutes when we went to our first stop of the day, an Eco-Farm that is entirely sustainable and zero waste. Everything here is grown and nothing is thrown away. We stopped in this green little oasis full of rows of farming and little huts where people lived. We toured all over the place and even got to make some homemade pita bread on an open fire.

We had some free time so we all wandered around the farm by ourselves and could check anything out that we wanted to see. I wandered off to go to the recycling tent where people leave belongings they no longer want so that others may utilize them as they desire. The tent was dark and not lit but it was in this room where the lives of people where left behind when people grew tired of their old hobbies or old books. A tent full of things brought from all over the world and later no longer desired or useful. I leafed through the discarded  books and found a copy of a Nadine Gordimer short story collection that I tucked away and took away with me. A little piece of literature that had been abandoned in Israel, picked up and brought to a new home across the world.

When we left the farm our conversations with the soldiers really began. Our first real experience with them was trying to play musical chairs… on a moving bus. As everyone ran around laughing our bus driver was yelling at us in Hebrew and it was so much fun but a little dangerous. As we were playing we began to hit windy roads which marked the changing of our surroundings. When we finally found our places again we looked out our windows where there were no rolling green hills any more, instead they had been replaced with deep desert valleys and sand dunes. Scene after scene of desert barren lands brushed by our bus windows for about an hour before we found ourselves descending into a valley surrounded by sand dunes. As we did we could see all sorts of little villages that we were told were from refugees and illegal immigrants who had set up settlements in the desert. Children sat on sand dunes and wild dogs roamed the desert, watching as we went by in our air-conditioned bus. It was an odd unsettling feeling that provoked the ever present feeling that maybe things are not as fair as we wish they could be.

We made our way down winding desert roads to a small oasis surrounded by palms. This would be our station for the night, the Bedouin encampment in the middle of the desert. As our bus pulled in we looked at the stables of camels and donkeys on the outskirts of the encampment that were fenced in with giant tree trunks of palms.

We dragged all of our luggage from the bus and left it aside for later. We had our introduction to the Bedouin experience in a goat hair tent roofed with palm leaves.

Standing above a fragranced fire, we were told about what it meant to be a bedouin. The wandering nomadic lifestyle that was lived by these extremely hospitable people who lived out in the desert in places somewhat like this. The entire time though we were all painfully aware that this “Bedouin Experience” we were able to take part in was at its very foundation nothing like real Bedouin life.  This was a comfy tourist “resort” that aimed at a genuine experience of Bedouin life that could never really get close to the way these people live their lives.

Hospitality and generosity towards visitors was highly important. As we sat listening attentively on the floor we were served tea that was made on the fire right before us. It was probably the best and most interesting tasting tea I had ever been lucky enough to taste. It was also really welcomed because at this point I was getting really sick and my sore throat was killing me. I had basically entirely lost my voice, so to have some hot tea was soothing in the best ways possible.

After our introduction to our Bedouin Experience, we went back out to the front of the encampment where we had previously seen the camels and donkeys.

I got camel number 47; a wily, dusty creature that seemed none too pleased to have something sitting on top of it. As I was perched atop the seated camel I was looking about taking pictures with my camera which I held uplifted in one hand and my other I used to hold the harness on the camel. I was extremely unprepared when our guide smacked the camel and it stood up, but not all the way up mind you, just halfway. So I found myself suddenly sitting at a forty-five degree angle with only one hand to brace me for the sudden jolt. I was nearly tossed over my camel’s head as it remained happily only halfway up with its back legs straightened and its front still neatly folded underneath him. After nearly being tossed within five minutes of sitting on my camel, it finally stood up and I was able to experience what it felt like to ride one of these ships of the desert.

Not another five minutes went by before he tried to bite me. It really didn’t like me and I can’t say I was too pleased with him either. Keep in mind, I am afraid of horses, little did I know how much scarier these swaying creatures of the desert where than horses.

After a rough start we all lined up and headed out into the desert at sunset. The swaying steps of the camels really do make their nicknames, “ships of the desert” seem extremely accurate.

We were led out into the rocky desert hills near where we would be staying for the night as the sky slowly turned pink. The horizon seemed to be lit on fire and the stones cast shadows around us as we made our way into the desert.

I forgot to mention that only half of the group was on camels, the other half got to ride small donkeys. The plan was to switch halfway through so everyone had a turn on a camel. Let me just say, things didn’t go as planned. Within ten minutes of our journey into the desert, which, by the way, was not a long journey, half of the people on the donkeys had been bucked from their backs. The donkeys went crazy and after ridding themselves of their burdens decided to wander off into the desert alone. After the difficultly with the donkeys, which were significantly smaller, those who were on the donkeys decided that the much larger and scarier camels where not worth the effort if the donkeys had been this difficult. So I got to remain on my perch high above the desert floor as my camel swayed its way across the desert floor.

As for the others, they decided to walk. The donkeys went their own way and wandered free of their burden off into the sunset.

Our time out in the desert was not very long at all but it was still a great experience to ride a camel into the sunset and watch the pink tint of the sun touch the desert hills.

It is nice to say I have done it, but I don’t think I would ever do it again. So I will leave the camels to the desert and the tourists still seeking the allure of a specifically tourist crafted experience that really only means something to them.

We returned to the encampment for dinner inside the bedouin tents. Mats were laid out everywhere with stands that would later hold our food. We each sat at tables with about four other people and had what felt like private little dinners in a giant tent filled with masses of people. It was a lot of fun getting to know everyone over an amazing bedouin feast.

After dinner we had free time for the rest of the night which resulted in a guitar and mandolin jam session until about three in the morning. Before that though, we had one little excursion to end our bedouin experience out in the desert. It was easily the most meaningful experience I had the entire trip.

Once it got really dark out and dinner had finished we all wandered out into the desert in a giant group. In near silence we headed out into the dark; blind in the utter darkness without a single shred of light, since the moon was not up. Those with flashlights were clung to like bats by the others trying to use any bit of light to see the rough desert terrain we were traversing. I was one of those with a flashlight and my companion was my friend Plia who was one of the Israeli soldiers who had joined us. I talked with her as we walked about the stars in the night that seemed to be the only thing we could see clearly in the dark. We had a great conversation breathed in hushed tones as we walked through the desert. Finally we made our way deep enough into the desert to lose sight of the lights from the encampment (but sadly not far away enough to lose the sound of tacky music being blasted from a party that was happening back where we were staying). So in (almost) complete silence, we individually found places in the dark to sit and just contemplate life, think about the trip so far, and wonder at the beauty of the desert. Plia and I sat together and lay down on our backs, even with rocks digging into our spines, and peacefully watched the stars. I pointed our constellations to her as we lay there talking. To both of our utter surprise as I was pointing out a constellation a shooting star shot across the sky right where I had been pointing. It was such a movie perfect moment, neither of us really seemed to believe it had happened. We both just turned to each other in the dark and smiled, our eyes asking each other where we had both just seen that actually happen. I can’t explain how much that little moment filled my heart with a warmth and happiness that seemed unbounded.

We split up to have quiet time and I saw yet another shooting star by myself later as I sat looking up at the sky and the desert that was bathed in a deep blue that I feel can only be found in the darkest, deepest parts of the sea. There was truly something magical about just sitting out in the desert near midnight in utter silence. This sand, these rocks, these stars, had seen a history on this soil that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. IT was here, out in this desert that Jacob wrestled with God, here out in this desert that thousands of years of history had unfolded. Even though all we could see was the darkness and the hardly lit landscape before us, that space was not empty, it was full to the brim. It was overwhelming to sit under the canopy of heaven and feel like the stars where so close that they were bending the sky in an effort to reach out and touch you. Never have I felt such a connection to the land before; it was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

After our quite time we all where summoned back together by our group leader Itay playing the guitar and singing a Neguin wordless song of praise. It seemed to resonate in the desert and as we all slowly got back together, everyone seemed to know that everything had changed. Everyone had felt something amazing in those moments, each in their own special way. We all gathered together and made a huge huddle around Itay and we sang out in the desert together. Our voices breaking the silence and reaching out across the land. We sang in Hebrew, we sang wordless songs, and eventually worked our way to cheesy American pop music. It was a wonderful progression from the serious and contemplative time we had had, back into a fun and carefree enjoyment of one another’s company. We sang out in the desert at the top of our voices to American Pie, Brittany Spears, and many other songs. With the lighthearted end to our desert quiet time we returned to the encampment renewed and with hearts filled with our experiences.

Back at our tents we continued the lighthearted singing in a jam session. It was so much fun to just stay up all night, singing, having deep conversations, and really getting to know each other besides the normal introductory questions we had been building our friendships upon. It was a night I will never forget.

We slept on the floor of a giant goat skin tent in sleeping bags for only a few short hours. The next morning was a six am wake up call and a long day ahead. It was a bittersweet end to the night; such a great time staying up with everyone, but the lack of sleep that followed would come back to bite me for the rest of the trip.

 

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Day Three: Family Day

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Yesterday was our official rest day that was still extremely eventful. We were staying for two nights at my lovely relatives’ home who where gracious enough to put up with us, dirt balls as we where. We got to stay in their beautiful adobe in New Mexico that had a gorgeous back yard and beautiful southwestern style architecture and of course, sheepdogs. They used to show and breed old English Sheepdogs and so they have four currently living in their home. It was like having a herd of sheepdogs at all times; marvelous, simply marvelous. These fluffy monsters are so much fun and so great I couldn’t help taking a million photos of them instead of simply taking pictures of our temporary home. We where welcomed into their home with open arms and it is sad knowing that we only had one whole day to spend with them, I could have stayed forever.

We decided on our down day to still go National Park hunting so we made the short drive up to White Sands National Park.

This park is full of sparkling white dunes stretching all the way to the base of gorgeous mountains was quite marvelous. Many people take sleds out and sled down the dunes but we had to refrain, maybe another time. We did however run all over the dunes and have a bit of fun messing around in the desert.

After the White Sands National Park we headed over to Old Mesilla, a very cool section of a little town that is full of intriguing shops and great food stops. We had an excellent lunch at Josephina’s that even included eating outside in a very beautiful garden. It was refreshing and enjoyable to say the least. We spent quite some time walking around the town square, going into almost every shop there was in the area.

Everything was so beautiful and scenic; I even found some incredible doors to photograph.

After shopping we went out for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant and took a very interesting side trip to a Hispanic grocery store that was just too cool. It was so much fun looking at all the different foods and the eye catching decorations that where hung from nearly everything in the store.

It was a fun day and we are very sad to move on but the trip has just begun and San Antonio is next on the list of stops. The long drive across the entire width of Texas begins now, and believe me, we are none to excited about it.

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Bootjack or Bust: Day One- Gila Bend

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Today my mom and I left for our third adventure across the USA in our car moving towards (albiet on a somewhat random and very indirect course) our final stop in Upper Michigan, Bootjack where we will spend the summer. This years course is a very different one than in our past. We have really out done ourselves this time. We will be heading out from Santa Cruz on a nearly two week excursion across the very bottom of the US all the way until New Orleans and then heading almost directly up, through lower Michigan, to our final destination.

That being said this is either going to be the best trip ever… or the longest one.

3am wake up- out of the driveway by 4am, we like to start early and end late. Sunrise to sunset everyday. As we made our way through Gilroy at 5am, the smell of garlic was thick around us. As gross as it sounds somehow even then, before we had eaten breakfast, or let alone woken up yet, the smell of garlic was mouth watering. What can I say, I am a Gilroy girl. Anyway, besides trying to take pictures of barns in the dark and relentlessly googling questions that we had always wondered but never had time to ask but now have all the time in the world to wonder about, we didn’t do much in the morning. By the afternoon when we had left behind the traffic and smog of Los Angeles, my mother had a request, a single request: to go see the dinasaur park near Palm Springs. So of course, we did because road tripping without odd and unrelated stops every so often is rather boring. So the dinosaurs, a gigantic, plastic T-Rex, and a hollow Brontesauras that you could climb in, where our first real stop on our adventure; they were fantastic in the best, most childish way.

After that brief but joyous stop we headed down towards the very bottom of the state via a road that went along a little known (at least to me) lake called the Salton Sea which is actually the biggest lake in California. It is also saltier than the Pacific Ocean, similar to the Great Salt Lake but not that salty, Salton Sea is an odd and somewhat mysterious place. We past it and decided on a whim to drive into a tiny little RV town called Salton Sea Beach. This little detour was very worth while.

This odd sign was just the beginning to this strange detour that actually wound up being rather creepy and eerie. Driving slowly down this sole road lined with trailer homes that were either being lived in with no present sign of life, abandoned in a state of hollow dishevelment, or burned. There was no one around. At the end of the road was a turn into a section of only abandoned and burned down trailers that was extremely creepy. It felt like if we left the car, people would slowly begin to emerge all around us, all waiting to attack. I am not paranoid, it was really kind of scary. Only when another fellow tourist (possible lost) drove up hesitantly obviously feeling the same way did we get the courage up to get out of the car.

First thing I noticed upon getting out of the car:

  1. It was 111 degrees out and I was dying of heat
then began a slew of other realizations:
  • it smelled of death and decay in a horribly fetid way
  • there was no sand just a mixture of dried, dead coral, and bones from fish that had been left to wither, dry and die in the desert sun.

Needless to say, I was horribly intrigued by this place and wandered around taking pictures of this mysteriously eerie place. There was furniture ripped and worn on the beach and extremely large tires lodged in the ground. It was the oddest scene I had seen in a while.

The furniture strewn on the beach obviously had been stripped from the graffitied and burned buildings behind us that seemed to lurk like ghosts just beyond what the sign had called a “marina”.

Other odd and baffling things like this boat where strewn about. This faded pink motorboat which was buried halfway in sand amidst a palm tree grove seemed to sum up the atmosphere of this place rather well.

Regardless of the eerie feelings, paranoia, and other shiver inducing things we found in this odd place, it was beautiful in an eccentric sort of way. The blue water nestled below the jagged mountains in the back ground as pelicans and great blue herons flew around, all made up a very pretty scene.

Leaving behind the sea we continued all the way to the bottom of the state as far as you can go before hitting Mexico and then turned for the beginnings of our eastward journey. We saw two interesting things: Sand Dunes, and the Center of the World.

Odd, I know, I didn’t really get it at first and I still don’t really understand. So apparently this town, if you can call it that, with a population of four called Felicity, is the certified center of the world. A man, one of the four residents, is a writer who made up  a children’s story about a dragon who lives under the center of the world or something which is Felciity. And somehow, he convinced several nations including China and France to help him certify Felicity as the Center of the World. And they did.

This pyramid marks the center of the world… and I was there.

We also made a pit stop in the newly booming town of Yuma as we crossed over into Arizona. Right on the Colorado river this town, featured in the movie 3:10 to Yuma, is a historic gold mine, not literally but figurateivly 🙂

With the old prison yard and railroad systems, Yuma was once a huge crossing where prisoners where sent. It was seen as Hell. The cells looked like it too, six men to a room and just the length of a single cot and the width of maybe three, seems like Hell to me. It was great poking around this old city and seeing the historic areas and crumbling adobe facades of century old, or older buildings.

Our final stop before settling in was a little rest stop called Dateland. Not for dating but the fruit dates!! I had never actually eaten a date before but I love stops like this that are just weird and fun. This place is world famous for its date shakes. Yes… smoothies made from dates. So I went from never having eaten a date to being a date veteran in a few minutes. It was so much fun and surprisingly good! It had a nice cinnamon like flavor and was delicious. A fun must do 🙂

Our last stop today is a special little spot called Gila Bend. This little hell hole is notoriously the hottest city in the US, it is so proud of this title it often likes to inflate its temperatures just to maintain its title. It is supposed to be near 120 degrees tomorrow. Yippee for me! We are staying in the Space Age Lodge… which has a space ship on top of it, no joke. Oh and a train that runs right outside our window every hour… also no joke. LOVE IT!

Sarcasm doesn’t read well on the internet. But another 4am start tomorrow as we continue on ward towards Las Cruces New Mexico to see some of my lovely relatives!

 

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Lizard Hunting

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Last year in Horseshoe BEnd I found an amazing looking lizard while out hiking. This year since we returned to the same spot I was hoping to again find a lizard like that. To do this we began a lizard hunt. We found several different types of lizard, the most common was this little guy with the black banded neck.

We also spotted a nice small red lizard. He was enjoying his sun spot and was extremely good at camouflaging himself.

There was a skink looking lizard as well who was very colorful. He was very fast and not very interested in sticking around for me to photograph him.

Finally after searching for a long time we finally found the lizard I was looking for. It was the same type of lizard as last year but unfortunately he was younger and I didn’t have the amazing color that the other did. He had the prettiest patterns and shapes including spots and stripes all over him.

He was posing all over the place, a perfect little model of a lizard. He was on rocks, near old branches, and of course the beautiful red sand.

He really was funny, running all over the place, stretching, and doing push-ups. It was awesome to see such a beautiful animal such as this lizard. All of them were beautiful and it just reminds me how much I love taking photos of animals and other wildlife.

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Utah Trip: Death Valley, Yosemite, and Home!

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Even now at 4:30 in the morning in Death Valley, it is near scorching. It is an ungodly heat, but for the beauty in this sparse land, it is worth it. We woke up really, really early in the morning to catch the sunrise and get a little hike in before it was too hot out. So we headed over to the Mesquite Sand Dunes to watch the sun rise over this sandy wonderland.

It was gorgeous, one of the most exquisite sunrises I have ever had the pleasure of watching. The way that the sun peeked over the mountains and seemed to crawl across the dunes was near magical.

With the sun newly risen, another aspect of this desert land was revealed to us; the texture. The lines and contours that have been etched into this land are amazing. The sun really accents its natural beauty and exaggerates the shape through definition.

There is so much beauty hidden in this desert it continues to amaze me. People assume that a place like Death Valley is barren, godforsaken land, but it is in a place like this that people can truly feel near god or some unearthly presence. Here, and every where around us is beauty, we just have to open our eyes and find it ourselves.

But a place of beauty is still incomplete without a bit of fun. My mom and I went down into the crease of the dunes to mess around. We played with the puzzle like pieces of dried river bed.

And even played with our own exaggerated shadows stretching across the desert floor. M for Multer, go travel buddies!!!

The dead heat of the afternoon was slowly creeping in around us so we quickly made our way out of the desert and moved onward to our next stop. Though ultimately our next stop was Yosemite, we made a stop along the way in Manzanar Historic National Park.

For those of you unfamiliar with this park, it is an old Japanese internment camp turned into a place of reflection and historical contemplation. Set beneath the beautiful snow-capped mountains near Mt. Whitney, this one square mile of land was once reserved for the relocated Japanese in California. It is intriguing and saddening to visit this place but most of all for me at least, it is a place to consider the decision of the past and wonder what the decision of the future may hold through the reflection and remembrance of a place such as this. The pillar in the cemetery here really brings this idea to the foreground.

Tokens of remembrance are left here like the long chains of paper cranes and coins for those who once had to call this place home. We can only wonder and remember this time where the world seemed a little darker for everyone.

 

After this stop we made our way upwards towards Yosemite with one more small stop along the way, Mono Lake. This unique lake is saltier than the ocean and is surrounded by strange monoliths that look like coral that wound up out of the water.

It si a strangely beautiful place, with blue-green waters and the snowy mountains behind it, these spires have an amazing location. Stuck between summer and winter, this strange place stands solitary.

There is almost no wildlife here to speak of except two species. The exotic seagull,

and it’s swarming food source, the Alkali Fly.

They sit in droves at the salty shores and only seem to move at the disturbance of humans. Upon which they rise up and swarm in black masses until the intruder is forced to run away due to fear of choking from the massive amounts of flies. Terrifying really…

Moving on, we finally made it to Tioga Pass, the entrance to Yosemite. This was quite a turn around because all of a sudden we found ourselves surrounded by deep snow banks and extreme snow run off.

In one day, we had gone from 108 degree deserts to snow laden valleys. It was quite a shock and seemed like this single dy had spanned weeks. However it was a very nice way to return home, what better views are there when returning home than half dome? Ok there are some but it was pretty nice!

It was a day that seemed to last forever but finally we found our way home. So here we are, safe and sound after a long week of adventure. As always, I am ready for more 🙂

 

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Utah Trip: Horseshoe Bend, Vermillion Cliffs and Everything Navajo

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Due to lack of internet I could not post this last night, but here it is now that I have internet. The story of yesterday. 🙂

 

Today was a day of reminiscing, we went back and visited many places that we saw last year on our road trip to Michigan and loved. The first of our most memorable revisits was Horseshoe Bend, a colossal gooseneck near Lake Powell.

This extraordinarily impressive geological monolith is one of my favorite views I have ever seen. Sadly the lightning was a far cry from last years and resulted in shadowed photos. Good photos or not, this was beyond amazing and I am really glad to go back and have another chance to see this unique structure.

One of the most memorable parts about going to Horseshoe Bend last year was the amazing lizard we found. This beautiful creature had spots and brightly orange colored stripes. He was gorgeous and today I was on a lizard hunt in hope of finding a similar lizard. In the end I did, see the next post for the full story but here is one photo for now.

Our next revisit was to the Vermillion Cliffs, which includes the Navajo Bridge and the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge. This wonderful park is surrounded by beautiful red cliffs and blue skies.

The first part of the park contains the Navajo Bridge, which bridges the beautiful Colorado River.

The Cliff Dweller’s Lodge is home to one of my favorite photos I have ever taken. The old adobe home on the side of the road with turquoise door and window frames that can be found at the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge is a truly beautiful little piece of ancient times.  Before I gave the picture of only the door and window, but now here is the entire house.

Surrounding this old home are the Vermillion Cliffs and these strange boulder homes that have been built up and once upon a time, lived in.  These strange homes are littered about in a hap-hazard fashion but are extremely intriguing due to their balanced and fragile looking structure.

While exploring these old places my mom and I were having fun stopping at every single Native American jewelry stand we came across. All over the side of the roads are little stands full of gorgeous hand made jewelry, dream-catchers, and pottery. We had a lot of fun shopping around and talking to the local Navajo’s about their beautiful home.

After a long day of reminiscing we took an unexpected turn and decided to go to Death Valley.

We had plans of going to Bishop and then Devil’s Postpile National Park, but found out that it is still closed due to the snow pack they still have.  So yes, a strange choice for the summer where even at night it is 107 degrees outside, but we did it anyways. So tonight we find ourselves staying at the Stovepipe Wells in the heart of Death Valley after driving down an omnisouly straight and long road out into the desert.

Tomorrow we will hike out before sunrise to see the sand dunes in the early morning glow before the sun bears down on us with its unforgiving heat.

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Utah Road Trip Day 1

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Today was a driving day. With each days goal in mind we have set out again on another road trip to try to grasp just one corner of nature’s beauty and try to hold onto it. AS always, our beautiful country has so many wonders it is near impossible to see them all. But that will never deter my attempts. The following week my mother and I will be doing a road trip around all of southern Utah, seeing national parks, hiking, running, photographing, and having a generally awesome time together in the desert sun.

Utah is one of my favorite places to visit because it has such astounding beauty that is unlike any beauty i can seen near me. Red rocks, canyons, desert expanses that stretch for miles, and of course the bluest skies you will ever see. Our trip began today hours before dawn heading out to St. George, UT, right past Las Vegas. This means that our day was entirely full of about thirteen hours of driving without any planned stops along the way. However any good road tripper can find amazing little adventures and detours to occupy time and make the day seem less daunting and more fun. Our first stop was to take pictures of dilapidation.

One thing about desert is that there is no end to the amazingly broken down and graffitied houses on the side of the road. It just so happens these are some of my favorite things to photograph. So we pulled off down a tiny road and found three old homes that had long since pasted their prime days.

Shells of their former self, gutted, empty and abandoned, left only for the sun and time to slowly peel away the paint off the walls, these houses are the definition of desolation. Here they are simply forgotten remnants of a life no one seems to care to remember. They have a sadness and a mystery that hangs from the broken ceiling beams that I find extremely alluring.

Speaking of forgotten desolate places, our next stop was a tiny ghost town that could hardly be called that. Just a few miles from Mojave Desert National Park is Silver Lake, or what little is left of it. An old Talc mining town, today there are only a few scarce building foundations buried in sand and a cemetery with a few solitary head stones.

On a happier note we then made our way to the Devil’s Playground in Sin City, yes Las Vegas. We stopped to gorge ourselves on the Bellagio’s glorious buffet and do a little shopping in 100 degree weather. Look I even have proof

As usual the food was glorious and we had to sample all sorts of delectable treats that elsewhere we would never find.

We also explored the gardens in the Bellagio which were beautiful and with some sort of American patriot theme.

So here we are after the first of many days to come of adventure. Tomorrow the fun really begins with our first national parks including Zion, Cedar Breaks, and Bryce Canyon. I can’t wait but for now we can only wait for dawn to come and watch the sun slip away behind a veil of red.

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